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EdTech’s Dazhi Yang: Having fun with the after-school STEM kids

Elementary school students programmed robots on a computer and then downloaded the program code to the robot. The goal was to get past the rocks to the colored circle, but sometimes they work as expected, so the boy shown here is making a quick course correction. At left, EdTech Associate Professor Dazhi Yang times the event. Next to her is Boise State Distinguished Educator in Residence and NASA Astronaut Steve Swanson.

On two recent evenings in Boise, EdTech Associate Professor Dazhi Yang presided over a room full of excited elementary students, teachers, and parents.

The students had volunteered for a National Science Foundation-funded after-school program in which they learned computational thinking and applied science, technology, engineering, and math skills. Some groups built bridges and some programmed robots.

This was the big finale—two nights of serious and sometimes raucous competition—bridge builders against bridge builders and programmers against programmers.

On the big night for bridge builders, the end of each bridge was mounted on a violently shaking table, an action resembling the torsion dynamics of earthquakes. Each component of these bridges was assigned a dollar value, so the lowest-priced bridge that withstood the shaking won the competition.

On another autumn evening, programmers tuned their robots for an environmental obstacle course only vaguely resembling the surface of Mars. The mission: Make the robots go around the boulders and race to a colored circle representing a marvelous discovery, such as water or a life-form.

“We hope this project will be able to help nurture some future astronauts who will be part of the Mars exploration in the near future,” said Dr. Yang. “We think everyone of these students has such great potential!”

Yang, chief investigator on the NSF grant, was assisted by colleagues in the Department of Educational Technology and in other Boise State departments.

Click one of these informative links for more information:
1. Life on Mars:
2. Building the Boise River Bridge:

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